Last weekend, Unshaven Comics were the guests of ComicMix, sitting in their booth at Wizard World Chicago. ComicMix was more than generous to allow the squatting, and I figure it behooves me to publicly thank them here.
So, after treating an insane bout of con crud upon coming home, I’ve had some time to troll social media to see what the world thought of the 39th variation on the original Chicago Comicon. The consensus amongst most of my friends was largely positive. But a few folks took to their feeds to take Wizard to task and dog-pile on the once crown-jewel of Chicago-based comic conventions. Perhaps it’s the massive dehydration I’m working myself off of, but I’ll be damned… I feel compelled to defend Wizard World Chicago.
First, let it be said: I myself have taken to putting Wizard World on blast before. I’ve also given them helpful advice. Suffice to say, WWC is my home show. This was the first con I ever attended as a fan. This was the first con I ever showed in as a creator. I have a love/hate relationship with it, as it is for so many cherished memories of our youth that don’t hold up upon later scrutiny. But somehow, within reading the dour thoughts of a random Facebook friend left me desiring to stand over the limp body of WWC and shout “leave her alone!”
Let’s be honest with ourselves: The advent of the Mega Con has mutated what was once the Comic Con. The big publishers now save their budget for San Diego, New York, and maybe a small handful of others. Why the Chicago snub? Same reason I assume they aren’t showing in Austin, Seattle, Baltimore, or a handful of other large metropolitan shows: It’s expensive, and thanks to the marketing of the TV and movie brands, the need to remind people they publish comic books isn’t as needed as it once was. Erecting a large booth, paying the travel and hotel costs of big named talent, and hosting panels with executives (who should be back bean-counting, and figuring out ways to enrage the internet) just doesn’t make sense when balancing the books at the end of the year. Obviously I could argue that the millions of dollars of profit earned for those TV and movie licenses might otherwise bankroll a larger convention showing – especially in America’s third largest city – but even if that were true, the big boys would sooner show up at C2E2.
So, without the big named publishers (or, really, any named publishers), Wizard World Chicago has opted instead to promote its contractually obligated appearances of a litany of celebrity guests. Because of this, my wife got to meet Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Renner, and Brett Dalton – all of whom were super nice and gave my wife lasting memories and keepsakes. A large showing of fans making their way to WWC come primarily for these meet-n-greets. I was once amongst those who bashed this concept. Spending potentially hundreds of dollars for an opportunity to take a picture with someone, to me personally, seems like a complete waste. But on the same token, taking into account how many hundreds of dollars I once used to purchase comics, graphic novels, statues, and other miscellanea leaves me at a stalemate. Autograph seekers are a part of pop culture as much as comic book collectors. And as much as it pains me to say it: Nathan Fillion will bring far more paid attendees to a convention than the promise of that one penciler on that book you like.
Wizard World Chicago has been a show in flux over the last few years. Call it growing pains, if you will. The shift from being a show that celebrated comic books first and foremost to the more general pop culture has left some in a state of bitterness. I myself was one of them for a long time. But hindsight is always 20/20. Comic books are a part of pop culture. Wizard is a business, and as such, pop culture is larger than comics alone. The shift to truly becoming a pop culture show means larger attendance. More vendors. More exhibitors. More panelists and programs. To decry the death of the Chicago Comicon because of Wizard is to blame San Diego, Reed, and the other convention giants around the country.
Wizard World Chicago is many things to many people. So long as comic books are at least some of those things? Then, leave WWC alone. It will never be what it once was. But if it continues to draw a large crowd willing to checkout the always-expanding Artist Alley, then who are we to judge? For those seeking the old-school Comic Cons of yesteryear, well, there’s still plenty of fantastic one day shows. Wizard, simply no longer is one of them.